Any better DAC then dCS Scarlatti?

I heard about new DACs on the market better than Scarlatti.
StahlTek Vekian and GTE Audio.
Someone compared them with Scarlatti?
Any other DAC compared with dcs?
Check Stereophile's February issue or the link below. Michael Fremer compared the dCS Scarlatti with our player, the Playback Designs MPS-5.

Jonathan Tinn
Playback Designs
Jtinn - I think that in your best interest is to refrain from posting comments about your products, esp. in the context of competing products.
I have not had the chance to spend any time with the Playback Designs DAC, but I strongly prefer my EMM Labs DAC2 to the dCS gear.
I don't see anything wrong with a manufacturer suggesting that someone read a review comparing his product to the one the OP inquired about. Coming on here and badmouthing someone else's product is something else.
Playback makes great products and I think we are lucky to have someone from their company here to contribute. Lets not give them a reason to not be a part of this forum.
agree the company post was Ok.... the poster did mention he was manufacturer related, and just mentioned review, along with no badmouthing any other product. perfect gentleman.
(I wish I COULD worry about which uber-$$$$ DAC I wanted..) Boo Hooo...
A question I can relate to...

I am currently assessing whether any of the ensuing will make a compelling, non trivial, semi-rational upgrade to my current dCS Delius

1. dCS Scarlatti
2. Esoteric D03 or D01
3. EMM Labs XDS1
4. Playback Designs MPS-5
5. Stahltek Vivian
6. Boulder 1021 inclusive new Ethernet connectivity...

or whether we're into the realm of infinitesimal gains....
I would suggest that the Wadia 922/931 with modifications from Great Northern Sound belongs towards the top of the list. It has taken me over a year to begin to appreciate what the Wadia DAC does, and I remain amazed. For me, the Wadia is such an essential part of a system that brings me into a performance with the greatest musicians. The Wadia will not add anything to the performance, but extracts all the detail about the music, the technique, and the venue. The Wadia is absolutely realistic when it comes to dynamics, image size, detail, and soundstage. It does all this without exaggeration.

As an example, I am a bit of a pianophile, and I like to hear the differences in technique. With Richter, he was a big man and used his entire body to play the piano – it can be quite aggressive and even violent. Horowitz has a bell-like quality to his right hand that remains clear even at high-speed. Bolet coaxes notes from the piano, Pletnev lobs notes from the piano – each has a characteristic intonation. I am now listening to Schubert’s Sonatas by Uchida. She is such a cerebral pianist, and can play with such light touch, tenderness, and beauty.
Kennyt, I had Emmlabs DAC2.
It is much lower level than Scarlatti.
Timbers are very far from real and resoluion is low with Emmlabs, but this you understand after listening to Scarlatti.
SACD is almost impossible to listen also.

As for Playback Design, I don't trust reviewers, but I trust owners.
Someone had Scarlatti and changed to better dac?
I also got suggestion to audition latest MSB PlatinumIII DAC!

Interesting topic. It seems like this question reprises itself in some incremental variant form every few days or weeks. I have the MPS5, dCS Paganini, Esoteric rubidium clock and the Boulder 2020 on hand right now. Owned for 6-18 months: Esoteric P03D03, dCS Elgar plus, Wadia 921/931, Esoteric D05 in the last 2 years. I would say that the Wadia, dCS Paganini and MPS5 are somewhat orthogonal to each other in sound (imagine a multidimensional relation rather than the so-called Type 1, Type 2 flavor in another Agon thread).

My impression is that the Paganini set, clocked by Esoteric, is much clearer and with better air and resolution than the Elgar plus stack but it has been some time. Oh, and I had the Zanden Signature DAC and still the Mark III...

The one DAC I have been tempted to try is the MSB...but one can only have so many digital systems without being overly nuts!
Classic - many thanks for your views, quite useful to get impressions of the DAC's from someone with actual exposure...and no skin in the game.

Piqued my curiousity though...why so many DACs on hand?
The MSB stuffis fantastic, BUT it took me a long time to extract the best out of it. It is very picky about vibration contro and the source. I have the MSB Power Dac which is a Platinum Dac minus the upgrade path ability or user controls.

The sound I am now getting is some of the best I have gotten out of digital and I rate it with some of the best I have heard. I will not go into too much as I have a seperate thread going related to this subject.

Also I wanted to say I see absolutely nothing wrong with a manufacturer (who makes it known that he is in fact a manufacturer) referring someone to a review. This is why we are on these forums, to learn and glean information from those who may know more that we do. Also it is fun to share information.
ClassicJazz - can you be so kind to post a mini review of all those different digital gear and compare them with each other? When you say the MPS5, dCS, and Wadio are "orthogonal" to each other, do you mean they are completely different?

Would love to hear what you think about all those different DACs
Jonathin -

I'm just re-reading the MPS-5 review. I was just wondering why the player takes so much time to break in ("months" according to Fremer)?
Changster: I cannot tell you exactly why, but it is a certainty. I have broken in a number of Playback Designs MPS-5s and it is very consistent. In my experience somewhere between 400 and 500 hours gets you 98% there.
its always hard to say if one brand is better than another brand since everyone look for different things when they evaulate sound reproduction. However I will say that the APL NWO-4.0-SE player/dac was reviewed very favorably in the latest Norwegian Fidelity magazine and found to be "better" than most of the big names that come to mind.
If you are looking for state of the art source I think you should investigate it further.
Ditto what Chayro, Cerrot & Elizabeth said. I have the distinct pleasure of listening to Jonathan's MPS-5 at a close friends house here in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area on a regular basis. It's an incredible unit, I never thought that redbook CD could sound so stunningly real. My friend has the MPS-5 in what must be one of the very top tier systems in the nation, and plays a great deal of large scale classical music on his system, which sounds as close to real live music as I have ever heard. Bravo.
I can't believe that you are wondering if there is a DAC
better than what you own?

You have some of the finest in High-End Audio, at some
point, you have to be satisfied with what you have.

True Joy is not found in "things", you can go through each
DAC in the world, and you will still be "looking" for
the "Best".

A friend of mine, once had Esoteric,DCS, Wadia, Spectral,
and is now with Meridian products, I think.

Most of us, would take any 1 of the above, and be "set!"

But then, there are those, that are trying to find
"happiness" in "things", and are never satisfied.

If the Scarlatti stack, fails to satisfy, what will?

Does it make "Music?" if so, what is the problem?

Who are you trying to please?

I Love My Music!
Audio Note!
I would find any info on these high end DAC's useful. I have yet to find one that I think sounds better than the Boulder 2020. I'm sure that one may exist that would suit my tastes even more. I've had the EMM CDSA and the Meridian 808.1 in my system and they both sounded less detailed with less control over the bass. They seemed to try to create musicality by "blurring" the details to a degree. In my system, the only thing I think I lack is some "rosin on the bow" with strings. I imagine there may be a player out there that still provides all of the detail with 2% more "lushness". If someone is aware of what that would be, please share. Of note, I have heard the playback designs in a SET based system that I thought sounded fantastic, but a bit dark (but that would be splitting hairs).
Bflowers, before I bought the APL I audiotioned several players and dac combos, among them were the Big Weiss stack(Jason/Medea), the big MBL(1621/1611), the small Boulder 1012, separates the Boulder 1021, the Emm CDSA, the Arc CD7.
Weiss - detailed with good bass
MBL - big and bold
Boulder - balanced but a little to dry

Later I heard the big DCS, which I find to harsh/edged

The APL excels in live like dynamics and drive it has physical presence and liquidity. All this is of course IMHO.
Perrew, I believe it was not Scarlatti dCS.
Scarlatti is very gentle, analogue like.
But I found that resolution and dynamic can be higher!
Murataltuev, I actually think it was the Scarlatti. I havent heard the old model in a long time but I think I thought the old model more "musical".
Weiss Medea ?
We have chosen the Playback Designs MPS-5 as our Reference DAC. We also have on hand the EMM Labs and Digital Audio Denmark AX24. We spent over a year testing every DAC available.
Crna, what do you mean everyone?
Wflm, I vote for infinitesible differences, and the smaller the difference the stonger the opinions about those differences. If I had dcs, Emm, or Esoteric, I would be looking at speakers if I were interested in a major change.
Pubul57....I suspect you are right, but to quote the Troggs: "I wanna know for sure"...

Suffice I am auditioning the MPS5 next week.

Am definitely mid mulling when it comes to the next upgrade. It is an interesting problem to have...where should one focus about $30k...

1. Avalon TIME (currently have Indras)
2. DAC – as above.
3. Interconnects, Cables, Power Chords (e.g: MIT Oracle), FINITE stands
4. Mixture of 2 and 3 to budget

And it is far from easy to assemble the foregoing to audition in my system to validate the extent of difference....

I think there is no way you will be unhappy with any of the DACs or Players you are considering, I would expect all of them to provide you with the best the digital format has to offer. Doesn't seem you can wrong, but for $$$, but that is of relative importance. The only thing that would keep me from making a move just yet, is the future of hi-rez downloads and the connectivity requirments for future music servers - then again, things may not change as fast as one would think, and I do have 1000s of CDs.
Hi Wflm,

Would you need to change amps if you change speakers, even if they are still Avalon models? I have found that a change in speakers usually caused me to first embark on finding appropriate amplification, if the amplifiers I own at the time of change do not mate properly. I would also add that in my setups, the change of preamp has returned the most dramatic difference, following the speaker/amp combo. Digital setups have varied but the differences are not normally that dramatic or drastic. I currently own the dCS Paganini synchronized with an Esoteric rubidium clock and the MPS5, among others. Differences are material, significant and I have more than one on hand for preference and choice, keeping my other gear constant.
Classicjazz - I am using Spectral monoblocks (DMA360v2) and preamp (DMC30SS); they should be able to step up to the challenge of driving the TIME.

Appreciate your perspectives on the DAC choices - intriguing to see the state of the art approached from rather different (as you describe orthogonal) vantages.

Thanks again.
Wflm, Based on your list, you should definitely start with the new speakers. Seeing where you are at, there is no way you would be disappointed. The Indra to the Time will be such a tremendous leap.

The Spectral may be a very good match, but don't be wed to your amplifier. Go listen to several others, and bring 1-2 in for home demo once the speakers are broken-in. If you can't find a better amp, then that issue has been settled. The amplifier is the key to Avalon speakers. This cannot be overstated.

Next you can find the perfect DAC that is synergistic with your speaker/amplifier interface. If you stay with Spectral, then you would probably want something not as crystaline, such as DCS, Playback, EMM, Weiss, etc. If you go with a new amp and preamp with more midrange presence but not the final word in clarity, then the DAC might be Wadia or Esoteric.

Cables should come last to fine-tune the sound.

Enjoy the journey.
So, no one heard Scarlatti and preferred another DAC?
Actually I found what was the problem with my DAC.
It has 2 options in conguration of output signal: 2V and 6V.
Now I switch to 6V and very happy!
Can't imagine anything better now:)
Maybe your Gyrodec? :)
I did hear the Scarlatti and prefer the APL by wide margin.
Has anyone heard the Stahltek Vekian as proposed in the opening of this thread?
I agree with you. I set my dCS Puccini and U-clock output at 6V as I use it with the digital volume control directly to the power amps. The 2V setting is more for use with an analogue pre-amp. Never been happier. I will try not to listen to the Scarlatti to find out what I am missing with my Puccini as the Scart is way, way above my affordability index. Lucky you!
RTN1 - Appreciate the line of reasoning from a fellow Avalon owner. Only real concern I've got with the TIME is whether they will be too much speaker for my smallish listening room (13 x 13 x 9)....but increasingly leaning in this direction.

Do you think your room can support the two 11" drivers in the Time? I would consider getting something to determine what your room modes are. I bought the XTZ Room Analyzer software and the exercise has been very instructive and constructive. I decided to purchase some room acoustics, in moderation and in acceptable fabrics, to deal with my room. I would say it has been the best <$300 I've spent in this hobby, notwithstanding all the great deals I've managed to scoop up on my system itself. You'd also be able to measure the response of your speakers in your room and, if your dealer offers in-home audition, measure the Times.
Classic - excellent idea.

Had begun to consider something similar basis this post:

but will look into the XTZ as well.

Much appreciate the pointer/headsup
That's an interesting point the writer makes in the CA link. It makes eminent sense if one is using a computer server to employ room correction. I am auditioning the Trinnov Optimizer in my setup right now and my preliminary assessment is quite favorable. I consider myself a critical listener and so far, so good with the Trinnov.
Wflm, That is a small room. The Indra may be the largest speaker that will work. Even though the Time footprint is not much different, it will behave sonically as a much larger speaker. If the bass is not properly controlled, the Time may be less satisfying than the Indra. I would recommend you give Avalon a call to ask their advice.
Perrew, can you describe system where you compared Scarlatti?
I'm very sceptical when much lower price device can perform better that higher price one. I think this means that it was not properly setup.
My Scarlatti start to work well after good power and cabling.
For what it's worth, I listened to the Scarlatti for a couple of hours under show conditions. It was set up in a larger room with the large VTL amp and Sceana speakers. At the time, I strongly preferred my APL NWO-3.0SE for its superior coherence, realism, dynamics, refinement and musicality. I came to the same conclusion after hearing a few other top-tier CD/SACD players in dealer showrooms. My recent upgrade to the NWO-4.0SE is a significant improvement over the 3.0SE.
Pure - curious, how could you isolate the Scarlatti form the rest of the system and room?
Rtn1 - Sound advice (no pun)...and have made contact with Avalon. Such also prompted me to get exact on the dimensions. Usefully, the listening room box is somewhat larger than I had thought : 17ft x 13 x 8 (LxWxH). The Indras currently sit 2ft into the room, 3ft off the side walls, with the primary listening position about 8 ft from the speaker face. At least to my ears, this works. Am quite curious as to what a room analyzer will indicate.

Thanks again.
how could you isolate the Scarlatti form the rest of the system and room?
The only way to isolate a CD player is to ideally compare it head-to-head with another one while keeping all other elements in the chain unchanged including the room. (Even then you have the synergy variable: player A may be preferable to player B in system X but not in system Y.) That is not always feasible, especially for the rare top-tier components. Before posting above, I've followed this thread for 10 days and it appears that the original poster has not had much luck yet in getting any ideal head-to-head comparisons (except for Stereophile's). So, I figured my non-ideal comparison may be of some use, since it also re-enforces Perrew's observation. I was careful to preface my remarks with the qualifier "For what it's worth", I explicitly stated that I heard the Scarlatti under show conditions (which are usually not ideal), and I expressed my conclusion as my "preference", not some absolute statement. I believe that my statement is reasonably qualified.

When I was shopping to upgrade my speakers and amp, I traveled around the country to audition top-tier components. On some of the trips I even took my NWO player, cables and power cord with me. As I said above, I strongly preferred my previous NWO-3.0SE to all other players I heard (in systems worth up to $500K). My recent upgraded NWO-4.0SE is a significant enhancement of the 3.0SE. I'll post a review of it soon.

If your current assessment of the 6 players you listed above entails head-to-head comparisons in the same listening room, then your observations may be valuable to the original poster, provided his sonic preferences are similar to yours.


I posted the link to the Scarlatti system I heard previously. With Focal speakers and ASR. Ive heard the Focals on several occasions all the models, I attach a link where you can see some of thesystems Ive heard including some of the sources mentioned. Since Ive heard all the Focals and the ASR on several occasions I think I have a pretty good grasp of their "sound" and can dissect the Scarlatti sound pretty well. So I second Puremusics finds, the NWO-3.0-SE was better than all the other sources Ive heard and the NWO-4.0-SE is significantly better.
As for cheap price tag Im not sure what youre referring to but if you mean the APL has a lower price than the DCS stack and therefore should not be better. I would take into account what the DCS costs factory direct, I figure a lot less then what the dealers charge. Anyway the thing with the APL is that people that havent heard it cant imagine how good it will sound and I havent seen any APL NWO-4.0-SE owners looking for another DAC like some other owners of the so called top dacs do. The only ones that dont seem to like it are the ones that havent heard it. Many owners of the NWO dont post and read this site and own or has owned pretty much all of the mentioned machines and thinks one of them is far superior. Im really looking forward to Puremusics review!
Perrew - Tak for det. Min dansk er bestemt rustne, saa vil skift to engelsk...

My ambition is to control the variables such that I can isolate the DAC in question. We shall see whether such is feasible - as already noted, securing each DAC for home audition is proving non trivial.

Am intrigued by the APL but wonder if it is "Retail" ready, that is: debugged, robust, serviceable. These are characteristics ancillary to the sonic virtues but essential if a piece of kit is to prove (relatively) carefree.

To be fair such is a concern I've about several pieces on my list: MPS-5, EMM XDS1, Stahl Tek, and for the Boulder its ethernet capability.

I will touch base with APL and see whether they can oblige with a demo unit.